More than 400 bills passed during the 2008 General Assembly session went into effect July 1. Among the legislation were new laws regulating everything from buying wine from wineries off the internet to changes in where sex offenders can live and work to being able to carry concealed guns into restaurants and public transportation. Here is a brief review of a few of the new laws affecting public safety.
New laws repealing some restrictions on where sex offenders can live and work took effect Tuesday, putting the state in compliance with an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Senate Bill 1 made it legal for registered sex offenders to continue living in their residence, even if a new facility with children such as a school, day care center, church, park and other areas where minors congregate moved within 1,000 feet of the residence, if the offender can prove they lived there before July 1, 2006. Previously, the offender would have had to move away.
The bill also added public libraries to the list of "areas where minors congregate" in addition to public and private parks and recreation facilities, playgrounds, skating rinks, neighborhood centers, gymnasiums, school bus stops, public libraries and public and community swimming pools. Registered offenders are prohibited from coming within 1,000 feet of these places.
Offenders are also now barred from volunteering at churches, and are also prohibited from taking pictures of minors without parental consent.
NCSO Lt. Ezell Brown of the sex offender registry task force, which oversees the more than 140 offenders registered in Newton County, said the new laws cleared up some gray areas. Less than a quarter of the offenders previously had to move because of the arrival of one of the prohibited places within 1,000 feet of their residence, Brown said.
Tough new DUI laws went into effect, increasing penalties for habitual offenders by making a person's fourth DUI charge within 10 years a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The change means the defendant could face time in state prison instead of a local jail. The first and second offenses will still be considered misdemeanors, but the third offense will be an aggravated misdemeanor.
House Bill 336 also requires a clinical evaluation upon the first offense, which can be waived at the court's discretion.
Sgt. Randy Downs of the Newton County Sheriff's Office traffic division said deputies often encounter repeat offenders, some of whom were able to avoid felony charges because of the previous five-year limit. The new law will be one more tool to try to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road.
"The way the old law was written, it was always a misdemeanor," Downs said. "Making it a felony gives us a little bit more leverage and deterrent because they could get prison time out of it now."
"Georgia has taken the lead as one of the leaders in strict DUI laws," said Covington Police Department Sgt. Chuck Groover. "That's a good thing for the motoring public."
About a third of drivers arrested or convicted for DUIs are repeat offenders and are 40 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Driving without a license
Those who are convicted of driving without a license four or more times within five years will now be charged with a felony, according to Senate Bill 350, with the first violation landing them in jail for at least two days.
This law is aimed at those people that don't care," Groover said. "We've had people tell the judge, 'I don't care, I'm going to keep driving.'"
However, while the offender is in jail, the bill's language specifies "a reasonable effort shall be made to determine the nationality of the person so confined."
Many people may not be aware that the laws allowing any degree of tint on car windows was repealed two years ago, said Downs.
Now, windows have to allow at least 32 percent of the light in and have tints on the front windshield that extend no more than six inches. Buying a used car with windows that were previously tinted when it was legal is no excuse.
"It doesn't fall on the dealership. It falls on the person who buys the car," he said.
The new laws can be found on the Georgia General Assembly's Web site, www.legis.state.ga.us